In the car, my mom and I pull out of the detention center driveway. It’s surreal, she came to pick me up and I can’t believe she is finally there. I can’t believe that I don’t have to eat another tater-tot triangle hashbrown ever again (I haven’t by the way), or that I can take a shower by myself that night.
Everything feels intense and amplified. The gas station noises, being at the airport, the number of people there has me feel like I am in a huge crowd. I experience anxiety about crowds for the first time, and it’s foreign to me. Getting home, I am in a house that doesn’t feel like mine any longer. Everything is packed and we are moving house.
The first couple of days I actually can’t sleep in the room alone, instead I go in with my mom. I ask to get up to pee from the dining room table. I ask to go outside and even there at home, feel like I don’t have the autonomy to decide how to spend my time in my room alone. It’s all so much after the rigid deprivation I had experienced. It’s like learning to walk again.
After moving to a new city 4 hours away, I start back to high school. I am in my third year now, and my classes had all been chosen by my mom before I arrive. I go in the first day and I am totally overwhelmed. All kinds of self-expressions around me. Crazy colored hair, clothes, smells, food and drinks that all the other kids have. I feel so bland, as bland as a tater-tot triangle after months of seclusion and grey sweat pants. Like I don’t know who I am any more.
In the hall, being touched and bumped by hundreds of people going by me is simultaneously amazing and terrifying. Human contact at the detention center had been extremely limited and was discouraged among us girls or with the staff, even hugs. I’d go days without really touching anyone. Being surrounded by people and touched on all sides is such a shock.
I find that chewing gum, cinnamon especially, helps ease my anxiety. I find solace in art classes and go to the art room in my breaks. Taking the bus to and from school feels like the most amazing freedom. Occasionally I have thoughts about that I could run again, but it seems so pointless now. I don’t trust that I could find the strength to do it. My anger and frustration is gone, there is no point.
More than that, my spirit feels broken. I am following along the path I am “supposed” to live now.
In chemistry class one day I recall the distinct memory of feeling like this incredible story about my life was hidden inside me. Like I had a massive secret inside. Looking at the clock reading 10:45 am that weekday morning, I reflect on how exactly I got to be there at that new school in that moment. I’m present to the coincidences and the small pieces aligning, and all the events that have happened in the last 6 months. Where is the girl that got on the greyhound bus the previous April? Long gone by now. I am a different human.
I befriend some neighborhood guys who ride the bus with me and get to start sharing with them about my life. I feel relief and belonging from that. Even still, it’s so hard to relate to students around me. They never had to fend for themselves. They don’t know what it’s like to sleep on the street, or to know real freedom. I feel like I am from another planet with the people around me.
I cry a lot at this time too. Feeling that I don’t know who I am anymore. That I don’t know how to be in the world and feel ok. From the sense of overwhelm, and then from feeling upset that I feel the way I do. Wanting a sense of self-knowing, normalcy.
I move house again after my mom doesn’t get to find a job in the new city. Back to my hometown. I made some new friendships online while I was in the other city, and through the friends who reached out upon my return. I ease into my life there, feeling more and more myself, biking to and from school, going to friends’ houses on the weekend. I get a job as a hostess. I am becoming finding myself again.
And then the next surprise comes.
I get home one day and a big yellow bubble wrap envelope is waiting for me on the porch. It has a diploma inside with my name on it and a transcript. They are from the online school that partnered with the Detention center.
I call the school and say there must have been a mistake. The tell me that I completed all the necessary courses to get a diploma. And yes, I did have more course credits than many people have by the time they finish high school, and was only in my third year, so it makes sense they thought I wanted to graduate.
I take the diploma to my current high school and show my guidance counselor and principal. They are totally stunned and confused. Nothing like that ever happened before. They tell me I can’t go to high school any longer, that I am done, this is it!
In the next day or so, I talk a lot with my mom about what to do next. I hadn’t been interested in going to college. Even after dropping out of high school, running away, doing online school at the detention center, my GPA is over a 4.0 on a scale up to 4.0. There is no problem about academics, I just had very little interest in college.
In light of the circumstances, college is the most logical next thing to do. Nothing else seems to make sense, so I apply to community college and get in. I ask my boss at the restaurant job for more hours. I go to school one last day to say goodbye to my friends.
And that’s it. In a matter of weeks I go from a high school student to a university student and “adult life.” At 16, I am on to the next chapter. Teenage years are gone, but then again they already were.